Sisters’ firefighting capacity clarified
Last updated 1/3/2023 at Noon
The Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District is adequately equipped to fight fires with their current equipment, and the fire station could hold a ladder truck if the District had one, according to Fire Chief Roger Johnson.
Comments made at the December 14 City Council meeting by Mayor Michael Preedin, which were reported in the December 21 Nugget, were inaccurate. During Council discussion regarding the proposed increase in building heights allowed in Sisters to implement “efficiency measures,” Preedin incorrectly stated that the Fire District currently doesn’t have the equipment necessary to fight a fire in a 50-foot building. He estimated that piece of equipment would cost over $1 million. He then surmised, “The current fire station may not be able to house a ladder truck equipped to reach 50 feet,” necessitating modification of the building.
The Council decided to pull the increased building heights proposal from the subsequently approved Development Code changes.
The Nugget was contacted by Chief Johnson the day the Development Code story appeared, to provide clarification regarding the department’s ability to fight fires with current equipment and the physical capacity of the station.
According to Johnson, “The District does have the equipment necessary to fight a fire in a 50-foot building, with the exception of a ladder truck.
Many of the firefighting strategies and tactics are the same regardless of building height, and therefore the district has the equipment necessary to extinguish fires.
The District does not own a ladder truck, but one is dispatched from Black Butte Ranch Fire District for any residential or commercial building fire in the city limits.
That being said, the driving time from the Black Butte Fire Station to Sisters can be a challenge for ladder-truck operations.
The District fire station on Elm Street is large enough and has open space to house a ladder truck equipped to reach 50 feet.”
In a subsequent phone call, Chief Johnson elaborated on how the Fire District functions. In response to an “automatic aid agreement” between the Black Butte Ranch, Sisters, and Cloverdale fire departments, whenever a fire within the city limits is reported all three departments are simultaneously dispatched. In all cases, fire engines are the first to respond in order to get water on the fire as quickly as possible to put it out. At this time, any building fire in Sisters can be accessed with ground ladders. If a ladder truck would be needed for some reason, the Black Butte Fire District has one that would respond.
The chief explained that even if Sisters did possess a ladder truck, which would cost in the neighborhood of $1.3 to $1.5 million, the fire engines would respond first, staffed by paid firefighters. A ladder truck doesn’t carry water like a fire engine and doesn’t have the same firefighting capacity. It would stay at the station, to be brought to the fire by volunteers and paid off-duty firefighters.
“A ladder truck is a complicated piece of equipment,” explained Johnson.
Operators must receive special training that takes time and money. In the last several years, a ladder truck hasn’t been needed for any of Sisters’ fires.
Johnson said the Fire District operates with a 25-year equipment replacement plan, which identifies future equipment needs and the money necessary to purchase it. The current plan does not include acquiring a ladder truck and the necessary funds are not allocated.
Any 35-foot buildings (three stories) built in Sisters must be fully sprinklered. If the City were to change the Development Code to include 50-foot buildings, the code would have to be enhanced to increase the fire rating on stairwells and standpipes, according to Scott Woodford, Community development director. That could increase building costs, which would inhibit providing more affordable housing.
Preedin explained the process when City Council considers Development Code changes. The background work is performed by Community Development Department (CDD) staff who then present draft proposals to the Planning Commission and City Council, who review, ask questions, suggest any changes. Then CDD revises the draft until it is in final form. That may take several reviews before it is ready for adoption. The latest Development Code changes followed this format, with CDD Director Woodford having several conversations with Chief Johnson and relaying information to the Council. Preedin had not spoken with Johnson prior to the Council meeting.
“In the interest of public safety and livability, Council decided to make a conservative decision and not adopt higher building heights,” Preedin explained. “I think we made the right call, the right decision.”
The comment about the Fire District not having the necessary equipment, or a place to keep it was, according to Preedin, “Just me being incorrect, thinking of possible consequences.”
In any case, at this point in time, the City will not allow taller buildings, and the Fire District has the equipment and personnel needed to provide for public safety.